Friday, August 17, 2007
Jennifer F. has a very thought-provoking post on generic "Christian Evangelization". (note: "generic" is my term). While I can't relate exactly to her experience, it did make me think of non-Catholic Christians I knew as a child.
We lived in a rural riverside neighborhood in Illinois, populated by mainly Protestants or non-religious nieghbors. I remember one day, near Christmas, when Mom had to work and had no one to watch us. I don't remember if my older brother was there, playing with their son Randy, or if he had something else to do. But in any case, I was packed up and dropped off at the neighbor's house, where I spent time in my regular pursuits.
I knew they were a Christian family; they talked about Jesus a lot, their house was decorated for Christmas, and as ours was, too, I saw no difference between what they believed and what we believed as Catholics. I knew their religion was different; but I was too young to understand what that meant.
Because I was always an artist, and I was a shy child, I spent my time that day drawing and coloring Christmas scenes. Really OBVIOUS Christmas scenes; Mary, Jesus, and Joseph in various Nativity poses. Jesus in the manger with cows and lambs, with Mary and Joseph kneeling behind him. Mary holding Jesus while Joseph stood watch. The Christmas Star high above, shining down upon the scene. Angels playing trumpets and singing. Oh, yes, I knew what Christmas was about. My pictures didn't have many Christmas trees...it was all about the birth of Christ. Mom did a good job.
And in normal shy-little-girl style, I showed the neighbor my various artistic offerings throughout the day, saying nothing, just "showing". I remember that her daughter asked me who the figures were, and when I didn't answer, she pointed to each character and named them. I agreed; she'd gotten it right. My drawings were never vague scribbles; I very painstakingly drew exactly what I wanted, and they resembled very specifically what they actually were. I speak to this very truly; there was no ambivalence in my work; my pictures were of the Nativity and the birth of Christ Jesus.
Somewhere near the end of the day, the neighbor stood at the sink, washing dishes while I showed her my drawings, which she admired appopriately and seemed to understnd what they were.
And then she threw me for a loop when she asked, "Do you know what Christmas is about?"
I was completely confused. Had I not been DISPLAYING to her ALL DAY LONG my understanding of Christmas? Was it not obvious?
I didn't know what to say, so I only stared at her. Her question made me second-guess myself. Was Christmas actually about something else? I'd been showing her the birth of Jesus all day. I'd been showing her angels proclaiming the birth of the Savior, I'd been showing her Mary and Joseph with little baby Jesus in the manger. As far as I knew, that was Christmas.
And she'd identified all the people in my drawings correctly. How could she ask me if I understood what Christmas was about...unless what I was drawing was a different holiday?
She was a very forceful woman, with a strong voice, a direct gaze, and was as fundamentalist as they come. Of course I didn't understand that was her belief or what it meant, but this Christian lady, upon recieving no response but mute surprise at her question began to belittle me for not knowing what Christmas was about.
"This kid don't know NUTHIN'!" She yelled out to her family. "She don't know who Je-sus is!"
Then she proceeded to tell me that Jesus was the Son of God, born to bring salvation to the world.
I looked at the drawings in my hands. That's what I'd been drawing all day. How could she not understand that I knew what Christmas was about?
Part of what inspired my drawings was the lack of Nativity scenes in her house. I had set out to help her with that poverty in her Christmas decorations, and instead, she had belittled my understanding of Christmas.
From that day on, I knew that there was a difference in what we as Catholics believe versus what "they" as Protestants believe, and I cannot help my knee-jerk reaction towards many Protestants I meet. To this day, I can still hear that woman crying out, "This kid don't know NUTHIN'!", that same thing being told to my embarassed mother, even as she looked through my drawings of the day, trying to protest that I did indeed know what Christmas was about and who Jesus was.
I will never understand why that woman did what she did. I will never understand how she could identify exactly what my pictures portrayed and still attack me by way of suggesting I did not know what it was about.
I do believe there was a bit of anti-Catholicism in her religion; she suffered from a belief that a Catholic child could only mimic but not understand. In truth, I think I could have taught her things had I had the voice to truly repeat all I had been taught by my Mother.
I've had other Christian faiths call my faith into question; likewise, I've met Protestants who have helped me to reinforce my Catholic faith and have a deep respect for our beliefs.
As an adult, more often than not I meet people of varying faiths, and we have a commmon understanding; we are all trying to reach God. We all agree there are people who don't know anything about the religion they profess. We all agree that we love the Lord, although we approach Him differently. We all agree we can be friends, we can talk about our agreements and disagreements, remembering we are on our own paths, we are all doing our best, and belittling others is NOT the way to win converts.
It can be necessary to speak harshly, to speak strongly, and to call ADULTS out on the carpet, for adults know how to speak for themselves. But we must be especially careful as to how we address and respond to children. And in reality, some adults are naught but spiritual children; they must be nutured.
God give us the grace and the wisdom to know the difference and respond properly, that we may build up the kingdome and fan the flames, rather than quench them from our own overly zealous righteousness. The former is to be desired...the latter is a sin we will answer for when we reach eternity.